FOXBORO, Mass. -- David Meggett's three-year tenure with the New England Patriots came to an expected but abrupt end yesterday when the team released the running back-kick returner, opting to absorb the rest of his current and past signing bonuses, which will result in a $2.175 million hit against their 1998 salary cap.
If he doesn't sign with another team this season, Meggett, who had been taking part in the team's strength and conditioning program and underwent surgery to repair a broken foot, may also be eligible to receive a $200,000 injury settlement for being released while injured. If that should happen, the sum would not count against the salary cap.
The team must absorb the rest of the signing bonus attached to his current contract ($925,000), which was restructured last July, and about $1.2 million from a past signing bonus.
Meggett, who played at Towson State, faces sexual assault charges in Toronto, and though no Patriots official would say on the record that his release was spurred by his off-field problems, one club executive said, "I think it's clear why Dave Meggett is no longer a Patriot."
The Patriots contemplated waiting until June 1 to release Meggett, which would have enabled them to split the salary cap hit over two years.
"We decided as an organization after going over our options that we'd rather absorb the hit now so we'll be free to do some of the things we'd like to do next year," said vice president of business operations Andy Wasynczuk.
Patriots vice president of player personnel Bobby Grier issued a statement in which he said, "We feel it's in the best interests of the New England Patriots to make this move at this time. #F Looking ahead, I think we have talented players who can replace Dave as a punt and kick returner."
Meggett, who was scheduled to earn $1 million this year and had three years remaining on his restructured contract, is expected to be healthy enough to play by the first game of the season. There's a possibility he'll rejoin his former Patriots and New York Giants coach, Bill Parcells, with the New York Jets.
Meggett, 31, NFL's all-time leading punt returner, never seemed to fit into the offense after Parcells left the Patriots following the 1996 season. But last season he became the team's most valuable player on offense, making huge plays to win games down the stretch as the Patriots won four of their last five regular-season games and qualified for the playoffs.
"There's no question he was a unique player," coach Pete Carroll said. "But this will give us the opportunity to give our younger players a chance to step up and do the job."
In late February, Meggett was charged with sexual assault and robbery of a Toronto woman, a case that is pending.
Soon after, it was revealed that Meggett has fathered five children out of wedlock with four women, some of whom claimed he had not provided child support.
Meggett has not commented publicly since the Toronto incident. Efforts to reach him and his agent, Tony Agnone, were unsuccessful. One teammate said Meggett was in the Baltimore area yesterday.